Opinion | My Veteran Problem


If my initial defensiveness about veterans at the Capitol was misguided, I wondered was I similarly misguided in my fears that “Cherry,” which couldn’t possibly have selected a more unseemly avatar for America’s veterans as its hero, would in some way do our community further harm? Should it have mattered to me that while the author of “Cherry” is a veteran, the directors, the screenwriters and the lead actor are not? Were the Russo brothers committing an egregious act of cultural appropriation?

I know plenty of veterans working — or struggling to find work — in Hollywood. How should I interpret the exclusion of their talents on a film that so directly engages with their experience, particularly when that experience is about to be rendered in such an unflattering light?

My answer to this question didn’t come in conversation with my friends, but rather with my own engagement in war, and also in the art that comes out of war. Take the 1986 film “Platoon.” Oliver Stone, its writer and director, is a Vietnam veteran. Does that make it superior to or more authentic than films like “Apocalypse Now” or “Full Metal Jacket,” whose directors — Francis Ford Coppola and Stanley Kubrick — were not veterans? Certainly not; all three films contain profound truths about war.

What’s more, those three films, widely regarded as among the finest from the Vietnam generation — engage with themes that transcend war itself. Which is, of course, why Mr. Coppola and Mr. Kubrick could create such accomplished films despite never having fought in a war. Their subject wasn’t war per se. Rather, war had become a device to engage a larger subject, the one that engages all great art — our shared humanity.

“Cherry” is set in and around Cleveland, a part of the country decimated by our changing economy and the opioid epidemic. It just so happens that the Russo brothers were raised there. When learning a bit more about the film, I saw that this devastation in their community is what initially drove their interest in the story, something not immediately obvious to me.

These myriad connections — both seen and unseen — are why erecting cultural barricades is such an ultimately unproductive enterprise. Who are any of us to assume to know every part of another?

So, I’ve come full circle in my thinking. I’m not only rooting for America’s veterans to engage with the extremism that has infiltrated our ranks, but I also hope a broader segment of America will engage with the subject as well. Which is why I’m rooting for “Cherry,” too, and hope it finds an audience, one who finds meaning in it.

Sure, veterans can always use the extra attention that comes with the release of any new movie about us and our wars. But more than that, right now America could use a work of art that tells us something about ourselves.



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